Friday, 8 November 2013

In the dark

The Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Kevin Madge (Lab), has written to his fellow councillors to explain the sudden U-turn over his promise to set aside time to discuss the pensions and libel indemnity scandal at next week's meeting of the full council.

In addition to allotting time to discuss what the Wales Audit Office considers to be unlawful payments to the chief executive, Kev had been hoping to provide councillors with what he calls a "full report" on the matter.

They won't be getting that either, although in all likelihood the "full report" would have been a very one-sided document explaining why the council was right to protect the chief executive from the tax man in his old age, and why the taxpayer should foot the bill for Mr James's legal adventures.

Instead of rolling over and agreeing that the council was right all the way along, the auditors have presented the council's top brass with what are known as "consideration reports", and the WAO has asked for a response by 22 November.

The consideration reports will effectively be advance copies of the public interest reports which the WAO has been threatening to publish, setting out its own findings.

There are two consideration reports, and it is reasonable to assume that one covers the pensions contributions payments (an identical document has almost certainly landed in Haverfordwest), while the other covers Carmarthenshire's unique libel indemnity arrangements.

The WAO has warned that under no circumstances should the council publish or disclose the contents of the two reports.

Although the debate scheduled for next week and the council's own report would not have constituted publication or disclosure of the WAO reports, the arrival of the documents in the post from Cardiff has given the senior officers a no doubt very welcome excuse to scrap the debate and allow councillors to concentrate on enjoying a corporate Powerpoint show from BT instead.

The one enduring mystery in all of this is why Kev promised a debate in the first place, as it has been known for some time that the WAO was likely to go ahead with its public interest reports procedure.

An agenda item to "receive" the minutes of the Audit Committee meeting at which the WAO's findings were first aired should give councillors their first chance to raise the scandals in the council chamber, although without the benefit of having seen any of the various reports, and with the council executive pleading the fifth amendment, they will be as much in the dark as the rest of us.


Anonymous said...

Like I said in comment to an earlier post, no matter which way they try to squirm out of this, they cannot justify the cost to the taxpayer for legal advice and services that benefited ONE public servant!!! I hope it is SOLACE and not the taxpayer who are funding his defence since the WAO's findings.

Anonymous said...

If we are ever to know how much money and officer man-hours have been expended on helping the CEx avoid paying tax, an FOI request will need to be made soon, before the cost of wading through the files, e-mails, counsel opinions and backs of fag packets exceeds the FOI limit. It is unbelievable that a Labour-Ind coalition has got itself into this invidious position, especially at a time when cuts to the most vulnerable are being proposed.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit disappointed by the audit office so far... If kev is saying the truth then it's them keeping this dark. Why have we had Pembrokeshire reports and not Carmarthenshire reports? Their job is to keep us in the loop and they now agree with the council to keep it quiet.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 22:15 it might be as John Brace who commented on Caebrwyn's blog suggests:-

"The quote from the letter about s.54 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 is selective and misleading.

S.54 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 specifies ten circumstances under which information can be disclosed in ss.2 the most relevant one being "with the consent of the body or person to whom the information relates;"

Therefore Carmarthenshire County Council could chose to give its consent to releasing the information, yet by postponing the report it seems Kevin Madge is removing the opportunity for the Council to decide to do so (or not) at its meeting on the 13th November.

On a more interesting note Kevin Madge doesn't refer to s.54A which was added to the Act by the The Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 (Relaxation of Restriction on Disclosure) Order 2005 .

This states "(2) A person who is, or acts on behalf of a person who is, a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36), may disclose any such information –

"(a)in the circumstances in which he would (but for section 54(2A)) be authorised to do so under section 54(2);
(b)in accordance with section 145C(5) or (8) of the Government of Wales Act 1998; or
(c)in any other circumstances, except where such a disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the effective performance by such a person of a function imposed or conferred on the person by or under an enactment."